PORTLAND — The Deering Rams had heard all the talk about parity within Western Maine Class A throughout the winter, just as they remained atop the division’s Heal point ratings.
But now they find themselves standing alone after using a second-half surge to power past Hampden Academy 59-50 at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Saturday night to win their second-ever state championship.
“I was so glad for them that they had an opportunity to have this experience,” said Deering coach Dan LeGage, “because all year long we’ve had to listen about how there was so much parity, yet we were sitting up at the top of the league all year.”
Parity, however, might be used to describe the Portland team’s performance on this biggest of stages, particularly after intermission.
There was the parity between perimeter offense and inside play, as senior guard John Amabile scored 27 points — including the 1,000th of his career — while the inside tandem of 6-4 Thiwat Thiwat and 6-6 Labson Abwoch combined for 25 points and 18 rebounds.
There was parity to be found between offense and defense. After being limited to 19 first-half points, the Rams put on a 40-point halftime show — more than Hampden had allowed on average in complete games during the Eastern A tournament.
And defense fueled that offense, with Deering’s trapping fullcourt and halfcourt zones taking Hampden out of its offensive rhythm.
“I think we just peaked at the right time, we started playing our best basketball at the right time,” said LeGage, whose team also defeated Hampden for the 2006 state title after losing to the Broncos in 2005.
Hampden, which entered the game riding a 13-game winning streak, finished its season with a 20-2 record.
“We didn’t have good flow, we turned the ball over way too much to win a game like this,” said Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. “They defend real well and they’re physical. I thought they just did a better job than us on both ends of the floor tonight.”
Deering held a scant 19-18 lead at intermission, but the Rams came out with renewed intensity after the break.
“Defensively we had a game plan to just really come after them,” said LeGage. “All tournament long that’s been our game plan. We threw a few wrinkles at them with our halfcourt trap and that was very effective, and that was something I thought kind of turned the tide because I don’t think they saw it coming.”
With that defensive pressure forcing turnovers and Abwoch and Thiwat more energized on the backboards after Hampden won the rebounding battle 21-9 in the first half, Deering was able to generate better scoring opportunities.
The Rams shot 64 percent (9 of 14) from the field in the third quarter, with Thiwat making 4 of five tries, as they stretched their lead out to 40-29.
“In the third quarter we couldn’t stop their side ball screen. We weren’t rotating, and they outscored us 21-11,” said Bartlett. “That was the story of the game. I don’t know what they shot from the floor in the third quarter, but it was very good and it was all close to the hoop.”
After Hampden sophomore Zach Gilpin drove the baseline for a three-point play to forge a 21-21 tie 90 seconds into the second half, Deering outscored the Broncos 17-2 over the next five minutes, with Amabile hitting a 3-pointer and a layup and Thiwat adding a low-post basket, a jumper and a drive to the basket to spark the rally.
“Thiwat was immense,” said LeGage. “He was everything I knew he could be.”
Amabile also scored eight points in the third quarter and added 10 in fourth — including a 6-of-6 effort from the free-throw line — to prevent Hampden from drawing closer than eight points at 54-46 on a 3-pointer by senior guard Christian McCue in the final minute.
Thiwat finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Abwoch added 10 points and seven rebounds. That duo — juniors who emigrated separately from the Sudan before school age, Abwoch at nine months and Thiwat at 4 years — combined for 18 points and 11 rebounds after intermission.
McCue, a Mr. Basketball finalist, capped off his high school career with a game-high 28 points, including 10 to help stake Hampden to a 14-12 lead at the end of the first period and then 14 in the fourth quarter while trying to keep the Broncos in contention.
Gilpin added seven points for Hampden, while senior forward Logan Poirier pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds and blocked four shots.